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Declaring an interest in Irish passport office

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Declaring an interest in Irish passport office thumbnailIN FAVOUR: Justin McNulty MLA

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty has called for an Irish passport office to be opened in Newry following an almost 30% increase in southern passport applications this year.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney disclosed this week that there were nearly 82,000 applications for Irish passports from Northern Ireland in the last 12 months - up almost a fifth on 2016's figure.

Last week's Newry Democrat revealed that almost 30,000 applications were made in County Down alone.

Mr McNulty attributes this to both post-Brexit uncertainty and from people wishing to retain their right to freedom of movement within the EU.

The SDLP MLA believes that border communities will feel the most pronounced impact from a hard-Brexit scenario, and said that because of this, any potential passport office should be located in Newry or Armagh because of their close proximity to Dublin.

"I think that we should be exploring that possibility now, I think that's been called for by various parties already, including our own, so I think it should be certainly explored," he said.

"The consequences of Brexit are going to be felt most strongly in border communities, so the border town of Newry or Armagh city are much more accessible to Dublin as well. I would support an Irish passport office in Newry any day of the week."

Commenting on the increase in passport applications this side of the border, Mr McNulty said: "It's not surprising and it has created a renewed Irish identity issue for people not just on this island but across the UK, where people are feeling more strongly in their Irish roots because it allows you identify strongly as Irish and identify strongly as European.

"But it's not just about identity, it's about rights, because your rights as an EU citizen are greater than someone who's not an EU citizen. You've the freedom to work and the freedom to be taken care of anywhere in Europe.

"For instance, let's say I'm travelling to the South of France to see my twin brother, and I have an accident. My EU citizenship then qualifies me to be treated as an EU citizen with the health service, wherever I am, and after Brexit somebody who hasn't got an Irish passport won't have that right.

"My point is that after Brexit, my rights as an Irish citizen North of the border must be equal to those people who have Irish passports South of the border, it's simple. The rights of people from Newry with Irish passports have to equal to the rights of people from Dundalk with Irish passports.

"People feel very strongly about how Brexit will impact on their future rights; there's so much uncertainty; you feel the uncertainty, I feel the uncertainty and everybody feels the uncertainty, as we just don't know where this is taking us."

Local businessman Michael McKeown said that he would like to see passport figures over a longer period to establish whether this is a spike in applications or part of a continuing thread.

He said: "It's not surprising because of the amount of publicity that has occurred until recently about the possibility of a border.

"It would be very interesting to see if it has tailed off with the assurances that there'll not be a border and we'll have freedom of movement. I would really like to see another six months figures to see if it has slowed down."

The former President of Newry Chamber of Commerce remains unconvinced, however, that there is a necessity for a passport office in the North.

 He added: "There's no need for it, not when you've got an express service through the Post Offices. Is there evidence of anybody in the North of Ireland who are having difficulty in obtaining an Irish passport?"

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